Kings Sign Three – Kaleb Lawrence (three-year ELC) + Joe Hicketts & Taylor Ward (one-year extensions)

A trio of signings to announce, Insiders!

First, the LA Kings announced today that they have signed forward Kaleb Lawrence to a three-year, entry-level contract carrying an AAV of $852,500 at the NHL level.

Lawrence is currently playing the final games of his OHL career, representing the London Knights at the 2024 Memorial Cup, which begins this weekend. Lawrence returned to health over the last couple of seasons, playing in 50+ games each year in the OHL, after a two-season stretch where he played just two games in total due to a collection of injuries. Lawrence is a big man – standing at 6-7 – and has aged out of junior eligibility. The Kings needed to make a decision on his future by June 1 and have committed to him with today’s announcement.

Instant Analysis
Kaleb Lawrence is a super interesting prospect.

When the Kings drafted him, he was a player who had played a grand total of two games in the OHL over the span of two seasons. The selection was a seventh-round pick based strictly on upside. Measuring 6-7, 230 pounds, there’s obvious intrigue right there. Lawrence is a player who the Kings wanted to keep an eye on from a young age to see how things progressed. They never really got that change, but in Round 7, there was enough there to justify the selection. A bigger player who can get up and down the ice and a player who used his tools as you’d expect him to, naturally presents intrigue at the very least.

In terms of his OHL production, he buried 20 goals this season as an overaged player. Not exactly jaw-dropping totals but he’s also not expected to be a jaw-dropping offensive player with the Kings at the professional level. He’s got snarl in his game, as evidenced by a pair of five-game suspensions in these playoffs alone. That’s not a stat to be proud of, I get that, but if you’re bringing a player of Lawrence’s stature into the organization he better be willing to play a certain way. He clearly is, with things the Kings will hope to channel and use positively.

Mark Yannetti on Drafting Kaleb Lawrence
We identified Lawrence a few years back and noted to keep an eye on his skating. And then he didn’t play for two years. But, he went the Columbus Blue Jackets development camp two years ago, got hurt. This year he was going to go to the Calgary Flames development camp. [Lawrence] is a guy who has clearly impressed multiple people along the way. In terms of upside, if he hits, he’s a huge hit. If he hits, he will check a lot of different boxes [for what we want…] this was a unique opportunity to take a chance on a kid who has shown a lot of good things in very little opportunity.

Additionally, the Kings have signed defenseman Joe Hicketts and forward Taylor Ward to one-year extensions. Both players carry an AAV of $775,000 at the NHL level.

Instant Analysis, From Reign Insider Jared Shafran –
Although Hicketts sustained an injury Oct. 25 that kept him out of the lineup for over three months, he was a key to Ontario’s success down the stretch and into the playoffs. The team’s outlook improved immediately upon his Feb. 16 return, which resulted in a lopsided 8-1 win in Tucson. Soon after, the club ripped off two lengthy win streaks of eight and seven games. In the 25 regular season games Hicketts was in the lineup for down the stretch, the Reign compiled a record of 18-5-0-2 for a 0.760 points percentage.

A reliable defender who makes breakouts look easy from his own end, Hicketts facilitates offense by making seemingly simple plays that help set up his teammates. He’s also someone who can be relied on when a play breaks down, always helping to scramble back and break up a rush against by an opponent. That style of play fit well alongside Brandt Clarke, Hicketts’ partner for the final two months of the season.

The early-season injury was the first time in his career that Hicketts has missed significant time. The blueliner was coming off a year where he played in all 72 AHL regular season games for the Iowa Wild during 2022-23, and he’s also appeared in more than 60 contests four other times during his eight-season pro career which started in the Detroit Red Wings organization with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Hicketts’ previous playoff experience was also evident when he helped Ontario to five straight victories to begin their postseason run. His shorthanded goal in Game 1 of the opening round against Bakersfield was his first playoff strike since 2017, when he scored eight points in 19 playoff games for Grand Rapids as a rookie to help the team capture the Calder Cup.

While he has appeared in 22 career NHL games with Detroit, Hicketts will continue to be a depth player for the Kings that’s expected to remain with the Reign next season. He’ll serve as a leader on the blue line in the AHL and as he did alongside Clarke this year, help mentor some of the team’s younger prospects who are developing in the league.

Marco Sturm on Hicketts
He’s a battler and a warrior. He does everything right and he plays hard. He’s a big-time player and you can tell he’s been through it. He’s been a big factor both on and off the ice and he plays a lot of minutes.

Brandt Clarke on Hicketts
I was grateful to be playing with him. He’s so smart, he’s always in the right position with his head up and always making the right play. He talks to me a bunch and that’s all I needed, he’s very vocal and I appreciate that. He’s a tremendous player and our whole team was lucky to have him. Him being by my side down the back half of the season meant a lot to me and I was appreciative of that.

Photo by Zak Krill/NHLI via Getty Images

Ward was arguably Ontario’s most improved player this season, appearing in 71 of the team’s 72 games for the second straight campaign in his second full pro year. His offensive numbers took a modest jump, improving from 26 points on nine goals and 17 assists to 32 points on 11 goals and 21 assists. But his all-around game was noticeably better, as was his chemistry with linemates, helping to drive play in all zones.

The 26-year-old went from a -20 rating as a rookie during 2022-23, the second-lowest on the team, to a +23 this year which led the squad and was tied for 15th-best among all AHL skaters.

Ward also elevated his game in the playoffs, finishing with seven points in eight games (2-5=7) to tie for the team’s postseason scoring lead, as well as a +6 rating.

With a defined role that has included important minutes alongside other impact players, Ward made plays all over the ice on a nightly basis, from helping setup offense to being a relied-on defender against other teams’ top lines, blocking shots on the penalty kill and bringing physicality with big hits when necessary.

As a staple of the Reign’s lineup up front, Ward is an option for multiple types of roles at the AHL level. With his continued development, the Kelowna, B.C. native is getting closer to being someone the Kings could consider for a bottom-six spot and this deal coming less than a week after Ontario’s season ended shows he was an early priority to be brought back.

Marco Sturm on Ward
He has been a horse for us. He’s taken his role really well. I really like his line because I can put him out a lot against other teams’ big boys. They shut them down pretty good and that’s why I put him out there at the end of games.

Akil Thomas on Ward
I love playing with him and we’ve had success together. He’s a great guy and a great player. I’m really excited for him to take another step next year.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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